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Ethiopian & Eritrean Food: Try 9 Dishes in Africa

Have you ever eaten Ethiopian? Ethiopia and Eritrea in Africa are considered hungry countries but have some of the tastiest dishes in the world.

African food - no thanks ...

Have you ever gone out to eat Chinese? Indian? Thai? Mexican? Peruvian? Kitchens that are known and loved around the world come from Latin America and Asia.

Only Africa, and especially sub-Saharan Africa, seems to have disappeared from the food world map, perhaps rightly?

"Fufu with rice" was on the menu in Nigerian restaurants in Bangkok, the only dish available. Fufu is the standard dish in West Africa and tasted bland. After just one meal, all of Africa was “eaten” for me.

That changed when my girlfriend showed me Ethiopian cuisine. I never would have thought that one of the best kitchens in the world would come from Ethiopia. Most of all, I associated hunger and poverty with Ethiopia. After just one meal, I really wanted to go to Ethiopia.

Ethiopians and Eritreans eat uniquely in Africa

The common cuisine of Ethiopia and Eritrea differs from the rest of Africa:

  • Spicy, rich curries seasoned with Berbere
  • Dishes melted in Niter Kibeh (similar to Indian ghee)
  • Extensive vegetarian cuisine thanks to 200 fasting days per year
  • Countless meat dishes including raw meat (tartare)
  • Every meal is based on injera, a sourdough made from grass teff (gluten-free)
  • Eating indirectly by hand: Curries are consumed with Injera
  • Social food: a plate of injera with curries is often shared

Last but not least, Ethiopia is the homeland of coffee and honey wine and home to countless local types of wine and beer.

Injera sourdough

What rice is in Asia, Injera is in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The sour, spongy dough is the basis for almost every dish.

I love the wobbly stuff, but not everyone likes the sour flatbread. There are injera in different qualities. If the slightly sour taste is too much for you, try to find high quality, very light injera.

Injera is fermented from teff, a type of grass that comes from Ethiopia. Teff is considered very nutritious and is probably healthier than cereals like our rye, wheat, etc. and, among other things, gluten-free.

Injera is also a eating tool and actually a plate. The curries are on the injera and you use a piece of injectera to absorb the sauce. If possible, don't touch the sauce directly (heavier than you thought).

Injera soaked in sauce tastes best at the end of the meal. You can even order it as a so-called Firfir, especially for breakfast. The soaked injera pieces from the previous day are eaten with even more injera.

Like rice in India, you can always get an Injeera refill. The vegetarian curries are also often replenished.

Vegetarian curries

What the "national dish" Dal Bhat is in India, Shiro is in Ethiopia. The chickpea curry is the most eaten dish in Ethiopia. It's fast food and fasting food and it's one of many vegetarian curries:

  • Shiro (Feses): If you order Shiro, you will get the thin Shiro Feses
  • Shiro Tagamino: The much firmer Shiro variant is easier to eat, especially at the beginning
  • Mesir Wat: Red lentil curry
  • Kik Alicha: pea curry
  • Azifa: Green Lentil Salad
  • Gomen: kale salad
  • Sils: tomato curry
  • Atkilt Wat: carrot, cabbage and potato curry
  • Yetsom Beyaynetu: a vegetarian platter with a combination of the dishes listed.

In addition to the local dishes, a vegetarian platter often also includes:

  • pasta
  • rice
  • Tomato and Onion Salad
  • Potatoes
  • Banana pieces

Vegetarian dishes cost around 20-25 birr (1 euro) in a local restaurant.

Tip for vegetarians and vegans: Easter

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, the best time to visit Ethiopia is during Easter Lent. There is no meat or dairy products for 50 days. A dream for meat eaters.

Vegetable oil is used instead of Nitter Kibbeh and there is a huge selection of vegetarian dishes. Fasting machiatos with soy milk are even on the fasting menu.

Believing Orthodox Christian Ethiopians observe a total of around 200 days of fasting a year, including Easter, Orthodox Christmas (in January), and every Wednesday and Friday.

The rest of the time, meat is understandably all the more popular in Ethiopia.

Meat curries

Ethiopians don't eat pork. But everyone who can afford it eats chicken, goat, beef or fish. The types of meat are interchangeable. It depends on what has just been freshly cooked and not what is on the menu.

Typical meat dishes are

  • Doro Wat: spicy, thick curry with egg and chicken thighs
  • Key Wat: spicy thick curry with pieces of meat
  • Minchet: hot, thin curry made from minced meat with egg
  • Tibs: Meat fried in Niter Kibbeh
  • Kitfo: hot, raw minced meat
  • Gored Gored: sharp, raw pieces of meat
  • Mahubawi: Is a mix plate with a combination of the dishes listed

Tibs always come unseasoned with a bowl of berber for seasoning. If you don't like it spicy, you can also ask about the Alicha Wat flavoring variant for other dishes.

Meat dishes cost around 35-40 Birr (less than 2 euros) in local restaurants.

Raw meat in Ethiopia

Kitfo is considered the royal discipline of Ethiopian cuisine and is widespread and very popular. The minced meat is not cooked but only briefly heated together with Berbere and Niter Kibbeh, the same applies to Gored Gored.

In Ethiopia, we had a lot of respect for raw meat dishes. As with steak tartare, meat quality is important. If you walk past an Ethiopian butcher, you will first lose your appetite for raw meat.

Towards the end of the trip we sat in a local restaurant in front of a mountain of Kitfo. I don't know if it was that, but a slight diarrhea wasn't long in coming;)

Even if you forego raw meat in Ethiopia, you should try both Kitfo and Gored Gored once in an Ethiopian restaurant in your home country. The two dishes taste quite different.

And otherwise? Dishes without injera

There are not many alternatives to injera:

  • Chechebsa / Kitscha is a breakfast pancake in the style of a Kaiserschmarrn
  • Dulet is fried, spicy liver and baguette, a typical breakfast
  • Omelet is widespread, often called “special omelet” with potatoes
  • Pasta is almost everywhere, mostly very simple in tomato sauce
  • If there is no pasta, there are pieces of bread in tomato sauce as a substitute
  • Fried fish is often available when there is a body of water nearby
  • Pizza and pancakes are mostly available in tourist restaurants
  • Burgers and steaks are often found in upscale hotels
  • Addis Ababa is the NGO capital of Africa with a large selection of international restaurants
  • The selection of cakes is very boring, and for the first time I haven't found a single cheesecake in the whole country

Before the Second World War, Ethiopia was occupied by the Italians for a few years, so you can order pasta and macchiato in the very last hamlet. Otherwise it often looks bad with international cuisine, the big exception being Addis.

Unfortunately there is hardly any street food in Ethiopia apart from occasionally charred corn on the cob and in Addis there are sambusas (like Indian samosas)

Ethiopian food can get monotonous

So there are not many alternatives to injera and it is best to try the Ethiopian food before traveling.

After 3 weeks in Ethiopia I am still looking forward to 2 injera a day. My travel partner Oliver from the World Travel Forum had enough of the sourdough after a few days and leaves it at once a day.

Almost every foreigner who has lived in Ethiopia for years can no longer see Injera. The expression “carpet with sauce” for injera with wat comes from a long-time NGO employee.

Although we still like to eat "carpet", we have taken the "carpet dealer" into our vocabulary instead of a restaurant;)

And what do Ethiopians drink?

There are many ways to wash down the rich and filling injera in Ethiopia:

  • A for Arak, a strong local liquor
  • B for beer, with 7 local beers, sorted by preference: Walia, St.George, Castel, Meta, Dashen, Habesha, Harar
  • C for Coffee Cola, a popular and typical Ethiopian soft drink
  • H for honey wine, the local tej is probably the very first honey wine
  • K for coffee, also as a half-hour coffee ceremony
  • W for wine with a growing number of local grape varieties

Coca Cola, Sprite and other soft drinks are of course also available in Ethiopia.

Coffee comes from Kaffa, Ethiopia

The coffee bean comes from the Ethiopian province of Kaffa. Coffee in the form of espresso is part of the everyday life of almost every Ethiopian and Eritrean. Even in small towns, cafes and small street coffee stalls line up.

You don't have to look for a coffee ceremony, it will find you. Sooner or later you will get the green beans roasting in the pan held under your nose in a restaurant and 20 minutes later the espresso will steam in the pot and shortly afterwards in your cup, which is always filled to the limit.

Among Ethiopian women, a coffee ceremony can also last hours with 3 runs. The coffee gossip was probably invented in Ethiopia, unfortunately without cheesecake;)

Ethiopian restaurants in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and internationally

You don't have to go to Ethiopia or Eritrea for your first plate of injera. In almost every major city in D / A / CH there is an Ethiopian or Eritrean restaurant, e.g. in Berlin, Bern, Bremen, Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Hamburg, Ingolstadt, Kaiserslautern, Karlsruhe, Cologne, Lausanne, Ludwigsburg, Mainz, Munich , Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Vienna, Zurich

Injera is also widespread in Italy. Eritrea was an Italian colony and it is easy to find an Eritrean restaurant in Rome. It's just as easy in typical immigrant towns like Brescia.

There is also an Ethiopian restaurant in every major city in the US. For example, I know some in San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Bangkok is the food capital. There are two Ethiopian restaurants in Soi Arab. If you are lucky, you will even see a shoulder dance in the main street Sukhumvit Soi 3 and if you are even more lucky, you don't have to dance along;)

Get hungry?

When are you going to eat Ethiopian next time?

My Ethiopia trip together with Oliver from the World Travel Forum takes place with the kind support of Ethiopian Airlines. Many Thanks! Opinions, pictures and recommendations are my own.

The travel camera for my photos is a Canon professional compact *

* Affiliate advertising link: If my information helps you, please use it to buy - nothing extra!